Open Letter to Citizens and Officials

YESeleven

513 Miner Street Road
Canton, NY 13617
 
TO:  St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators and elected town and village officials in Canton and Potsdam
DATE:  February 16, 2015
RE:    Biting the hand that feeds you
 
YESeleven is an advocacy group for the upgrade and improvement of Route 11.  We feel it is essential that real solutions to our local transportation problems be developed, solutions that work for our communities now and in the future.  Last week a controversy developed over a study being undertaken by the State DOT.  Perhaps you read about it in the local news last week --- harsh criticism directed at the DOT over a draft Technical Memorandum.  The Memorandum was not favorable toward the feasibility of constructing a four-lane interstate-type highway between Watertown and Plattsburgh, which has outraged a few supporters of the long-debated and controversial Rooftop Highway.  Here's the link to the news article in case you missed it.
 
 
Unfortunately, the harsh criticism of the Memo has the potential of undermining highway transportation planning efforts vital to the economic health and vitality of our area.  It appears to be an attempt to sabotage this well-funded and necessary highway transportation study.  In addition to studying the Watertown to Plattsbugh corridor, needs and opportunities in the Canton-Potsdam area are also being evaluated.  A team of highly qualified professional engineers working with a diverse group of local stakeholders is conducting the study.  An outreach program with meaningful opportunities for citizen participation will be an important part of the effort. 
There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that we need the DOT.  They have the expertise and access to funds needed to undertake infrastructure projects that will make our transportation systems safer and more efficient and improve our local communities.  The last thing we should do is bite the hand that feeds us. Yet, the critics did just that - they chomped down on the hand of the DOT with their vicious and, in our opinion, unjustified criticism.
 
The criticized draft Technical Memo concludes that a new east-west 4-lane interstate-type highway between Watertown and Plattsburgh is not economically justified.  This should be no surprise to anyone that has traveled elsewhere and experienced real traffic flow and congestion issues.  The need is simply not here.  Previous studies in 2002 and 2008 came to the same conclusion and nothing has really changed.  However, Rooftop Highway promoters see it differently.  They see the highway as a driver for economic development, not a response to an actual need.  It is an unproven theory that a new interstate highway would stimulate economic development.  The draft Technical Memo phrases it this way: "In some cases, local economic development is an important driver of roadway investment, however, the connection between the construction of a rural freeway and economic development is tenuous."  The Memorandum ends with this conclusion: “The Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) reflects what $1 of investment will generate in societal benefits.  A project with a BCR greater than 1.0 is considered economically justified.  The BCR for a freeway connecting Watertown and Plattsburgh is lower, and ranges from 0.4 to 0.8.  An investment with this BCR would typically not be advanced.”
 
The need to work constructively and cooperatively cannot be overstated.  County Legislator John Burke said it this way last fall in his successful campaign to unseat incumbent Jason Clark:   “Effective planning is the cornerstone for improving our county. The mechanics of change require the collaboration and collective wisdom of many.” The DOT has initiated a transportation planning process designed to foster collaboration and invite the collective wisdom of anyone who wants to constructively participate, be they businesspeople, public and quasi-public service workers or ordinary citizens.  It is essential that we constructively participate in this process.  We cannot allow the process to be sabotaged by a small group of vocal malcontents, disgruntled because the Study results don’t agree with their point of view.
 
John Casserly & John Danis
YESeleven co-coordinators